Dear Ace: Can I keep a goat as a pet? And where’s the whole pet/livestock distinction there? Could I sell my pet goat’s milk at the City Market?—Bill E. Gotes
Bill: Seriously? Goats are some pretty nasty characters. They might look cute, but if "Looney Tunes" has taught Ace nothing else, it’s that goats are short-tempered jerks who’ll screw you over for the slightest promise of a tin can supper. And those rectangular pupils? Creepy! But say you do want one of the little fellas in your back yard. Can you keep him? Huh, can you?!
If you live in the county, you can goat, er, gloat that you can keep an animal like this as a pet.
In the county, you might just be in luck. City of Charlottesville spokesman Ric Barrick tells Ace that Animal Control, a wing of dispatch services that covers Charlottesville, Albemarle and UVA, doesn’t make any official distinction between pets and livestock, so if you can keep it on a farm, you can keep it as a pet. As long as you’re not mistreating your goats, you should be able to let them sleep at the foot of your bed and get some feta cheese out of the deal without getting in any trouble. But in the city itself? Bad news.
Virginia State Law, though it includes a provision entitled "Disposal of animals by means of decompression chamber prohibited" (remember Alien?), doesn’t tell you what sort of pets you can and can’t own, unless they’re fighting cocks or (cue courtroom shot of Michael Vick) fighting dogs. That’s all left up to localities to decide. So what’s the deal in the city? According to Charlottesville Code, you should be all right to keep any animal that isn’t dangerous (the code doesn’t specify, but just don’t be raising any Bengal tigers or anything), as long as you don’t let any livestock-type animals run free or sit unattended in a parked car for more than 30 minutes (no, really: Section 4-10). What’s the problem with goats then? Well, under Section 4-9, "Keeping hogs, goats and sheep," it says "no hogs or sheep shall be kept in the city except for immediate shipment or slaughter." No goats are to be kept in the city at all. Nasty though the little guys may be, Ace feels kinda bad for them. They’re, in fact, the only specific animal to which the code makes reference as one that can’t even step foot in the city. So the three types of animals likely to raise Animal Control’s ire in Charlottesville? Dangerous animals, endangered animals and goats. One of these things is not like the others.